Sunday, October 12, 2014

Date Nut Bread

I have loved dates since I was pregnant with my son Jeremy.  The craving for fresh dates was so strong, I used make the 60 minute round trip drive, down from our mountain home, just to purchase dates.

I still love dates.  There are groves of date palms in Palm Springs.  Alessandro and I used to stop at the date stands to buy fresh dates, date malts, date cookies and date cookbooks. He knew my love for dates and always cheerfully pulled into each of those tourist date stores.

When I'm in Italy, I always buy a package of Moroccan or Tunisian dates during my first grocery stop. They are sold still on the stem. So delicious! I nibble in the evenings on dates and pistachios.

Last November I found Israeli dates.  They looked different to me. Peering into the sealed package, I saw fat dates, which had none of the dried wrinkles I was expecting. When I unwrapped them later to eat, I had to throw them away.  They tasted green and they were not dry, but oozed a syrupy juice. Perhaps they were picked too green?  

This weekend, to use up some old hard dates, I searched and found this recipe. I did change it based on comments I read on the site.  I choose to omit the sugar, but then at the last minute, I decided to put 1/4 C brown sugar, along with some butter, on the bottom and sides of my antique tin loaf pan. I used olive oil and whole wheat white flour, as I always do for cookies and cakes.

The end result was fabulous! I've already sliced and frozen the loaf.  I'll enjoy a piece each day this week in my lunch at work.

Date Nut Bread

Makes: 9x5 inch loaf

2 1/2 cups chopped dates
1/4 cup butter or olive oil
1 cup boiling water (or ½ C boiling water and ½ C fresh Orange juice)
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour or white whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped walnuts
Zest from one organic washed orange (opt)
1 t ground cinnamon (opt)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees F). Grease and flour a 9x5 inch loaf pan.

In a medium bowl, combine the dates and butter. Pour boiling water over them, and let stand until cool.

When the dates have cooled, stir the mixture to break up any clumps. Mix in the brown sugar and egg until well blended. 

Combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt; stir into the date mixture until just blended.

Stir in walnuts. 

Pour into generously buttered pan which has been sprinkled with 1/4 C. brown sugar.

Bake for 50 minutes in the preheated oven, or until a wooden pick inserted into the center comes out clean.

adapted from:

Pappa al Pomodoro

I think I've only had Pappa al Pomodoro one time in Italy.  I had a craving for it last weekend after the magazine Sale e Pepe arrived from Italy. I had all the ingredients on hand, except of course, the authentic salt-less bread from Tuscany. I used a stale Ciabatta from Trader Joe's.

Before I started the soup, I had to write Marta in Italy to confirm my understanding of "seven veils" which was called for in the cooking instructions.

I made 1/4 the recipe for the first attempt.  It was so good, I made the recipe again and tested freezing single serving portions, for my hot lunch at work.  (It froze and reheated very nicely.  I was not disappointed in how it looked or tasted.)

During my next trip to Italy, I will bring back a loaf of bread from Firenze and prepare this recipe again to compare the results.  I certainly understand I cannot make these dishes 100 per cent authentically, but I know my cooking experiments here, are fun, tasty and not like anything I can eat here in most restaurants, labeled Italian. That seems to be changing in Los Angeles County, where one can now find modern Italian food, as it's cooked today in Italy.

Pappa al pomodoro

8-10 Servings
2.2 pounds mature tomatoes (or drained canned tomatoes)
2 red onions, diced
2 cloves garlic, whole but crushed
1 handful fresh basil leaves, without stems and torn into pieces.
Loaf stale Tuscan style bread or ciabatta*
1 liter vegetable broth
Extra virgin olive oil
Pinch of dried hot red peppers

Cut the bread into cubes.
Finely chop the onion and in a large pan, sauté in olive oil, until soft.  Add hot pepper flakes.
Peel the tomatoes.  Crush them with your hands and add them to onions.  Cook 7-8 minutes.
All the bread and half the broth, the garlic and the basil.  Mix it well, until the bread becomes soft and puffy.  Add the rest of the liquid, even though it might seem to be too much.
Let it cook, without stirring over medium-low heat.  Now the soup must form “7 veils” which means, let it form a skin and then stir it.  Do this 7 times.
The soup will be ready in 30-45 minutes, depending on when the veils form.
At the end, serve in flat soup bowls, with a drizzle of good olive oil over the top.

*Hint:  cut the bread into cubes before it becomes too hard to cut.  Store loosely in glass jar.


Pappa al pomodoro 
Dalla rivisata Sale e Pepe

Per 8-10 persone

1 kg di pomodori da salsa mature (o di pelati, compreso il liquido)
2 cipolle rosse
2 spicchi di aglio
1 manciata di foglie di basilica
2,5 hg di pane toscano posato raffermo
1 litro di brodo vegetale
Olio extravergine d’olivia
Peperoncino in polvere

1.       Tagliate il pane a dadini. Affettate finemento le cipole e fatele soffriggere con un po’ di olio in un tegame largo e con il bordo alto circa 10 cm.  Qando sarrano appassite, salatele, aggiungete un pizzico di peperocino e mescolate.
2.      Unite I pomodori schiacciandoli con le mani (se preferite, potete abucciarli e passarli con il passaverdura) e lasciate cuocere 7-8 minutei, finche la salsa si sara’ un po; addensata.  Quindi aggiungete il pane, meta’ del brood vegetale, gli spicchi d’aglio e il basilica.  Mescolate bene in modo che il pane si rompa e si gonfi.  Versate il restante brodo (mettetelo tutto anche se vi sembra troppo) e livellate la superficie, che deve risultare uniforme e ricoperta dal liquid.
3.      Lasciate cuocere per un po’ senza mescolare.  Ora la papa al pomodoro deve fare I cosiddetti “sette veli”: quando in superficie si formarsi di un nuovo velo.  Repetuta l’operazione 7 volte, la papa e’ pronta (occorre circa mezz’ora).  A fine cotture aggiungete un filo di extravergine e portate in tavola.